Why telling your lawyer the truth is a very good idea.

Here’s a client guide I recently posted on Avvo.com concerning the importance of making a full disclosure to your lawyer:

Often, clients feel that they have to present the facts to their lawyer in the best possible light, or the attorney might not want to represent them. Your best bet is to give your lawyer ALL the facts. Here’s why:
1.  TRUST.

The attorney-client relationship is primarily based on trust. It goes BOTH ways. If you are concerned about your lawyer’s loyalty or motivation, you probably shouldn’t hire him or her. If you’d like to see your attorney become truly unmotivated, lie to him or withhold evidence and watch what happens when the truth comes out …
2.  TRUTH = SUCCESS.

Most litigation is not won or lost based upon the merits of the claim; it’s won or lost based upon whom the jury believes. Document trails, witness statements, photographic evidence, scientific evidence, are all support structures for the ultimate issue — who’s lying, and who’s not. If you initiate your relationship without disclosing all you know or strategically withholding evidence, the lawyer will build the case on that structure. If it’s an inaccurate or untruthful “foundation”, the case becomes a house of cards, and you’re sure to lose.
3.  YOU’LL HOGTIE YOUR LAWYER WITH A LIE OR INCORRECT FACTS.

Even the most skilled advocate is only as good as the case his client gives him. If a lawyer knows about a problem early in the case, a good lawyer will know how to deal with it or recast evidence or strategy to minimize the “blemish”. If he doesn’t know the problem before it shows up during the case, that little “blemish” will overwhelm the rest of his evidence. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen, and often on the most insignificant of facts (like Furman lying about racial bias, which had nothing to do with the OJ Simpson investigation).
4.  JURIES LOVE FULL DISCLOSURE.

Abraham Lincoln once said that if he were to be accepted as President, he would have to be accepted “warts and all.” It’s not coincidental that while he was certainly controversial as President, he’s gone down in history as one of the most beloved. Juries are no different; they want to see the entire person, not just what’s been carefully sculpted and scripted for trial. A few “warts” tend to humanize someone seeking justice. A perfectly groomed candidate becomes suspect.
5.  YOU’LL FEEL BETTER.

Do you remember when you were kid and threw out a fib, and spent the rest of the day worrying about whether you’d be caught? A courtroom’s far worse than your parent’s living room. The constant fear of the strategically omitted fact or outright lie’s disclosure will affect your testimony and your entire case. It’s better to have it disclosed early, when your skilled lawyer will know how to deal with it (See Section 3, above).
6. YOUR LIE WILL BE DISCOVERED — THAT’S WHY THEY CALL IT “DISCOVERY”.

Civil and criminal cases require that lawyers exchange information about their cases in a process called “discovery”. In my field, civil practice, discovery is very extensive, with subpoenas, written questions, document requests, and lengthy depositions, all designed to ensure that there are no surprises at trial. Everyone leaves some kind of paper trail, especially someone who’s been untruthful. Don’t think you can hide a secret in civil litigation; they inevitably come out, whether it’s through finding a contradictory business record; a subpoena of your email records or Facebook postings (and don’t think THAT doesn’t happen!), or just your squirming in the witness chair when asked just the right question.

7. A COVER-UP CAN BE MORE POWERFUL THAN A TRUTHFUL ADMISSION — REMEMBER WATERGATE?

Although I wasn’t his biggest fan, Richard Nixon was an innovative and creative president. His domestic agenda was actually quite literal; the Environmental Protection Agency, Planned Parenthood, and many extensions of Lyndon Johnson’s “New Society” were actually enacted on Nixon’s watch. He was re-elected in a landslide. What brought him down? It wasn’t the “third rate” burglary; it was the COVER-UP. A lie becomes magnified by the series of lies a witness or party has to tell to keep the lie secret. In that sense, it’s far more powerful against you than early disclosure of the truth should be.
8.  A DAMAGING TRUTH MAY ACTUALLY INCREASE YOUR SETTLEMENT.

One of the greatest problems with our justice system is the delay involved in getting a case to court. Skilled defense lawyers can tell early on whether a case is legitimate, and they pay people who present honestly and truthfully faster and more than people who don’t. An example: I had a client who had a drug problem after a serious injury. If we’d tried to hide it, the defense would have pounded his character at trial. Instead, we freely admitted the problem; described his detoxification and the “sobering up” process in intimate detail in his deposition; and brought forth members of his family to describe how difficult it was for him to quit and how hard he’d worked to stay straight. The result; the Defendants ended up settling the case for over $4 million, fearful that the jury would blame THEM for causing the addiction. And the case settled far faster.